By Ihsaan Haffejee
Police accused of firing rubber bullets from close range when her back was turned to them
Former WITS SRC President and a leader of the #Feesmustfall movement Shaeera Kalla has been shot multiple times in the back by police at the university today. A visibly distressed Kalla was helped into an ambulance by her father and a paramedic.
Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel confirmed that Kalla had been shot by the police. “We know she was shot nine times by police, [was] treated by campus health and taken to hospital,” said Patel. “Several students were treated at campus health and wellness centre. One with a dislocated leg was taken to hospital by the dean of students and a campus nurse,” added Patel.
Protesting students claim that they were attacked by the police on the road between the science stadium and the engineering building on West campus. A group of around 30 protesting students were making their way through West campus when they were confronted by police, they said.
First year BSC student Yamkela Gola witnessed the confrontation. “Shaeera approached the police with her hands raised in order to negotiate for the students to hold a meeting. The police did not want to engage her. They were very aggressive and released a stun grenade,” recalled Gola. “This caused panic amongst the students who started fleeing. Shaeera had her back turned to the police with her hands up trying to calm the students when they opened fire. There were around five cops about a metre away from her all shooting directly at her at close range.”
An SABC cameraman who was on the scene noted that another student looked like she had dislocated her knee in the resulting chaos. “Students tried to assist her and pick her up but the police kept on shooting at them, even at the guys trying to help her,” he said.
Protesting students regrouped outside The Great Hall and were joined by some of the workers of the university.
Wits SRC Secretary General Fasiha Hassan claimed that the shooting of Kalla was a deliberate attack on the leaders of the movement. “We are absolutely disgusted by the actions of the police. The fact that they opened fire at such close range, the fact that most students were shot in the back. The kind of police brutality we seeing now is at an exalted level,” said Hassan. “We know that Shaeera is very strong but even I’ve never seen her cry like today.”
Wits management said protesting students in West campus were disrupting classes and tests. “Students had disrupted a test and tore up test papers on the Wits west campus before police tried to disperse them,” said Patel.
A large group of protesting students and workers then left Wits and marched through Braamfontein to protest against the police actions earlier in the day. The march was proceeding peacefully but was met by the police as students were making their way back to campus. A small standoff occurred and student leader Vuyani Pambo, who was leading the march, was arrested by police and taken into a nearby Nyala. Protesters expressed their unhappiness and the situation threatened to turn violent. Police released Pambo a short while later and the march proceeded peacefully back to the university without incident.
Pambo claimed that police were orchestrating a co-ordinated attack on the movement’s leaders but were afraid to make arrests during the day and would come for them at night. He urged students to keep on fighting for free, quality and decolonised education even if all the leaders are put in jail.
Wits management in a statement said that at least a hundred books at the Wartenweiler Library were damaged in a fire at the university on Wednesday afternoon. "Security has determined that the fire was started with an accelerant or flammable substance, which may have been hidden in a bag found on the scene,” said Patel on the incident.
The Wits Student Representatives' Council tweeted that Kalla was in an emergency room at a hospital (name of hospital not given) and that the police had gone to the hospital to get a statement from her.
UPDATE 19:10, 20 Oct: Kalla posted on her Facebook page that she was shot 13 times. "I am currently in hospital and will have to stay in according to the doctors." She further wrote, "In extreme pain in the emergency section of the hospital, I was greeted by three policemen, who demanded I provide them with a statement."
UPDATE 20:15, 20 Oct: Brigadier Sally de Beer of SAPS, in a published statement, said that Acting National Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Khomoto Phahlane "directed that the facts be established including the circumstances which led to the incident and the extent of the injuries sustained." De Beer further said that the provincial commissioner of Gauteng had been "dispatched to the hospital to visit the injured student ...". De Beer said the matter would be referred to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate for investigation. "We wish the injured student a speed recovery," said her statement. "Members of the SAPS are once again called upon to exercise maximum restraint and to act within the confines of the law."